In the press notes accompanying The Last Airbender, director M. Night Shyamalan says he's always dreamed of making a big movie franchise a la Star Wars or Harry Potter. But I can't see that dream becoming a reality. Airbender feels like an overt bid to kick-start a big-budget action-adventure franchise, but it doesn't feel like a movie that actually deserves any sequels.
It's pretty easy to pin the film's failures on Shyamalan himself. The movie is based on an animated Nickelodeon series that was, for its three seasons, a hit with audiences, a ratings earner, and an award winner (include Emmys and Annies). The source material was more than up to snuff, a rich starting point for a big-screen adventure franchise. With its own epic mythology and enticing mixture of martial arts, fantasy, and character-building, this story could have worked well as a nice trilogy of summer blockbusters.
But alas, the once-promising Shyamalan, after making the modern-day classic The Sixth Sense and the dark, undervalued gem Unbreakable, is a director who seems increasingly consumed by his own ego, making movies that reek of the Shyamalan style but have none of the Shyamalan magic. Signs was a hit with audiences, but reviews were mixed; The Village is generally considered to be a letdown, and both Lady in the Water and The Happening met with such bad reviews, they were essentially D.O.A.
So Shyamalan has turned his attention from leaden, implausible suspense thrillers to a tin-eared, clumsy summer adventure; it's a change of pace, but hardly a creative rebirth. To his credit, Airbender bears few stylistic similarities to his earlier movies, and rarely feels as though he's trying to hijack the popular source material. That said, he's been working ...1
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The Last Airbender
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